After an employee reported to work in blackface on Friday, Sept. 17, the Newberg Public School District announced that the unidentified staff member was placed on administrative leave.
“The administration of Newberg Public Schools condemns all expressions of racism,” the Oregon school district said in a statement on its website on Monday. “It is important to remember how Blackface has been used to misrepresent Black communities and do harm. We acknowledge the violence this represents and the trauma it evokes regardless of intention.”
The district said the employee was removed from the elementary school premises after reporting to work in blackface, and promised appropriate action would be taken following an investigation, but did not provide further details about the situation.
“Each incident report is always taken seriously as we diligently follow our policies to investigate and take appropriate action,” the statement said.
The Newberg Graphic reported that the female employee reported to Mabel Rush Elementary in blackface to draw parallels between herself and Rosa Parks in protest of COVID-19 vaccine mandates after the district required the shot for employees.
According to the Graphic, special education assistant Lauren Pefferle darkened her face with iodine, although the district has not confirmed the employee’s identity or what substance was used to create blackface.
Superintendent Dr. Joe Morelock said about the incident, “I am horrified, angry and ashamed that this happened, as is nearly every other staff member. The students of color in Newberg deserve so much more. This goes against everything I and the vast majority of NSD staff believe, and is unfathomably offensive.”
Pefferle shared her side of the story on conservative Portland radio host Lars Larson’s show. A portion of the conversation was shared on Twitter Thursday, Sept. 23 by @RyanTClarke.
Pefferle revealed a teacher informed her she was not allowed to “work with a particular student anymore” and had to immediately begin standing 6 feet apart from all students.
After the work day, the frustration set it. “I feel segregated, I feel segregated because I am unvaccinated. Something is wrong here.”
In response to feeling “segregated,” Pefferle decided to “put some darker color on my skin parts” and head to work.
When asked by Larson is her actions should be constituted as Blackface, Pefferle feigned ignorance. “I did have darker skin makeup on my face and my hands, and the parts of my body that were showing my skin. I never once thought of the word Blackface because I honestly don’t even know that term. I don’t know what people mean by that and I don’t use that language.”
The Newberg School District made headlines earlier this year for race-related issues involving students. District officials discovered earlier this month that some students were participating in a virtual “slave trade” on the messaging application Snapchat.
In the Snapchat group chat, students used photos of students and racist slurs and joked about how much they’d pay for their Black classmates. The chat first popped up in Michigan late last year and has also surfaced in Texas.
“Newberg High School became aware of a very serious and inappropriate incident on social media in which one of our students took part in a snapchat group termed ‘slave trade’ and used photos of other Newberg High School students in the group,” the district’s statement said.
Screenshots posted on Instagram by a user named @royceduey show a discussion of students’ private lives and the prices other students would pay for them. Screenshots show student comments such as “All Blacks should die” and “Let’s have another Holocaust.”
Both instances come amid a district-wide controversy surrounding a ban on political symbols, including Black Lives Matter and Pride flags, implemented in August. Amid backlash, and potential legal challenges, the school board revisited the ruling but ultimately stuck to it.